Perhaps no candidate in the 2020 presidential race has risen as fast as Peter Buttigieg. Buttigieg, whose name is pronounced “boot-edge-edge,” came into this race virtually unknown to most of the country, but an August Economist/YouGov poll had him tied in fourth place with Sen. Kamala Harris, carrying 8% of the vote.
Buttigieg, or “Mayor Pete” as he likes to be called, won the South Bend, Indiana, mayoral election in 2011 at just 29 years old. Now at 37, Buttigieg is the youngest candidate running for the Democratic nomination. He is also Ivy League-educated, openly gay and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
The Indiana mayor launched the Pete Buttigieg for President campaign on April 14, 2019. His name recognition has risen quickly, and many note his steady move upward in the polls. But most of the presidential candidates have held higher-profile offices than the mayor of a midsized city. Democratic voters will watch closely to see if Buttigieg’s emphasis on rural outreach can resonate in Iowa and New Hampshire. If he does well there, he could solidify his position as one of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination.
- Who Is Pete Buttigieg?
- Pete Buttigieg on the Issues
- Who Will Most Likely Support Him?
Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg was born Jan. 19, 1982, in South Bend, Indiana. The son of a University of Notre Dame professor of literature, Buttigieg became interested in politics early. He won the JFK “Profiles in Courage” essay contest during his senior year in high school.
Buttigieg went on to Harvard University to study history and literature and graduated magna cum laude in 2004. He also received a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford.
While working on the Barack Obama presidential campaign, Buttigieg became inspired to enlist in the military. He joined the U.S. Navy Reserve, achieving the rank of ensign in 2009.
While still enlisted, Buttigieg received the Democratic nomination for Indiana state treasurer in 2010, later losing the general election. He then began a campaign for mayor of his hometown of South Bend. Buttigieg won that election in November 2011, becoming the youngest mayor in history to run a city of over 100,000 people.
From there, he went on to serve in Afghanistan, during a seven-month leave from his mayoral term. And in 2017, the Navy gave him an honorable discharge.
Buttigieg has lived as an openly gay man since he came out in 2015. In 2018, he married Chasten Glezman.
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Via his campaign website, Buttigieg attempts to stand out by proclaiming, “It’s time to reclaim the values that drive our policy decisions.” And those values are ones Americans hold dear: freedom, security and democracy. Buttigieg also made a “commitment to America’s heartland” in an attempt to connect with rural America — a region many feel Democrats have ignored in previous elections.
Even with the mayor’s attempts to differentiate himself from the rest of the pack, however, many of his positions echo those of other Democrats running for president. Ultimately, how his views apply to the rural constituency he has targeted could determine how well he resonates with voters as a presidential candidate.
Buttigieg has discussed taxes he would like to see increased but has offered few specifics. He has expressed criticism of the so-called “Reagan Consensus,” the mantra that tax cuts always lead to revenue increases, and he has made it clear he will move away from that line of thinking.
Buttigieg spoke favorably about a higher marginal tax rate for top earners and would also like to see a wealth tax. Presumably, this would resemble a tax on high net worth individuals, similar to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax.
Buttigieg has also mentioned a desire to pursue a more equitable estate tax and wants to explore a financial transactions tax. In comparison, Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed such a levy to fund some of his programs.
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Buttigieg has proposed specific initiatives to improve the environment. Home energy efficiency, building retrofits, carbon reduction and addressing environmental issues related to rural areas are among his priorities. A Buttigieg administration would also reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement.
Like other Democrats, Buttigieg stands against what some describe as President Trump’s “shadow war” on climate science. Implementing a Green New Deal has been mentioned often during Buttigieg’s campaign, and he has outlined a plan to combat climate change that would include a “carbon tax-and-dividend.” The plan would also invest heavily in a 100% clean energy society. In addition, Buttigieg would like to prepare both the military and first responders to act on security threats regarding climate change.
The South Bend mayor supports implementing “Medicare for All” — eventually. He characterizes his shorter-term plan as “Medicare for All Who Want It.” This proposal makes Medicare available to everyone who would like to buy it but presumably leaves the door open for those who want to stay with current health plans.
The healthcare issue is particularly relevant to Buttigieg’s focus on rural America. He wants to keep existing hospitals open while the country formulates a plan for better care outside of the cities. The mayor also emphasizes what he calls a “National Health Equity Strategy” that would ensure quality outcomes regardless of race, sex, sexual preference, immigration status, income or location.
Concerning public education, Buttigieg wants to increase federal aid to Title I schools, which have a high percentage of students from low-income families. In addition, he proposes an investment in high-quality state and local programs that would foster teacher diversity and increase their pay.
The mayor would also like to provide a zero-tuition education at public colleges for low- and middle-income students. He proposes to do this through a federal-state partnership that would increase Pell Grants and provide $25 billion to historically black colleges and universities.
Mayor Buttigieg has offered specifics on this issue in just a few areas. He would like to cancel all debts in what he calls “low-quality, overwhelmingly for-profit” programs. He would also apply more stringent standards to these for-profit schools and ensure the “highest degrees of transparency and accountability” for all institutions of higher education regarding loans. In addition, students who go on to enter public service would receive increased support.
Like most other candidates in the Democratic field, Buttigieg has expressed support for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. He also specifies that workers should have access to “predictable hours, wages and support” and wants to restore Obama-era regulations on overtime. The regulations would include both pay and benefit protections for workers.
Interestingly, this could place the mayor and other Democrats in agreement with Trump, who has shown openness toward the $15 per hour minimum wage.
The Pete Buttigieg 2020 campaign lists common-sense immigration reform as a key policy. Under this plan, policies would address both the humanitarian and economic needs of immigrants. Additionally, this plan would provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and those working and paying taxes. Buttigieg wants to end immigration-related backlogs and provide border security, though presumably not through a border wall like Trump proposes. Family separations and arbitrary targeting of immigrants would end under his proposal.
Income inequality is one issue where Buttigieg has not spoken extensively. Instead, he has addressed this issue more indirectly. The $15 per hour minimum wage and zero tuition at public universities are proposals he has made to improve conditions for the less fortunate.
Since he began his campaign, Mayor Buttigieg has faced charges of ignoring the needs of the poor and minority communities within South Bend. In response, he has proposed his “Douglass Plan” to address such iniquities. The plan would level the playing field by reforming the healthcare and criminal justice systems and making credit and capital available within the black community.
Gender pay equity is a key policy of the Buttigieg campaign. The mayor sees this issue as extending beyond pay to equal retention and promotion, and Buttigieg would recognize companies that he feels treat women equally. His support also extends to the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Equality Act, the Equal Rights Amendment and many other policies to protect women.
Candidates in both parties generally have spoken little of this issue. Although it’s not a centerpiece of the Buttigieg campaign, he called the national debt a problem that has to be taken seriously. The mayor has criticized Trump on this issue, saying the administration has “divorced its debt policy from the macroeconomic reality.” He blames Republican tax breaks for this debt, though he acknowledged that it was an “unfashionable topic” of the left.
Buttigieg hasn’t announced a plan to combat the national debt, but he proposes taxing people who are paying less than their fair share. In addition, he has suggested education and infrastructure investments to boost productivity.
Buttigieg claims to have cut unemployment by more than half in South Bend. Indeed, unemployment in the South Bend-Mishawaka area has fallen from 9.6% when he took office to 3.8% currently.
Still, although he led many economic development projects, mayors — and often even presidents — have little influence over the macroeconomy. Moreover, with national unemployment at 3.8%, the issue has received little attention during the campaign.
Buttigieg backs the so-called “right to be forgotten,” which means that individuals can ask platforms such as Google or Bing not to include them in third-party search results. Such a right currently exists in the European Union. The mayor has called for a national debate on this issue to decide how data rights would work.
“We’ll have to decide the difference between a piece of data that I hand to a company to use and make money off of, and something that is published,” Buttigieg said.
The Buttigieg campaign proposes shoring up Social Security by raising the maximum wage level subject to Social Security taxes. He would apply the withholding tax to the first $250,000 per year in wages, up from the current $132,900 per year. Buttigieg’s proposal does not go as far as proposals from some candidates, who want to also subject income above $250,000 per year to the tax.
So far, Trump has approached the issue indirectly, relying on higher wages, lower unemployment and consumer spending to shore up the program.
Buttigieg created an Office of Sustainability within South Bend’s city government as a way to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement within his city. Building on his accomplishments in South Bend, Buttigieg wants significant federal investment in infrastructure. Much of this spending would go toward environmental protections and solutions to environmental threats while also emphasizing disaster preparedness and relief. The mayor sees rejoining the Paris Agreement as a way to both meet and increase such goals.
With Buttigieg tying Harris in two of the latest polls, he arguably can claim status as a top contender — although he has consistently polled in fifth place in early contests such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Buttigieg has picked up a few endorsements. U.S. Rep Don Beyer of Virginia, former DNC Chair Steven Grossman and Austin, Texas, Mayor Stephen Adler are among the political figures backing his campaign. Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Mandy Moore, Tom Ford and Kevin Bacon have all donated to Buttigieg’s 2020 campaign.
Due to issues in South Bend, Buttigieg has had trouble connecting with black voters despite his Douglass Plan proposal. And he recently faced criticism for drawing an overwhelmingly white crowd but has won the support of the Victory Fund, an influential LGBT group.
Buttigieg holds the potential to connect with fellow millennials. Yet, it remains unclear whether he has resonated with any large group of voters outside of the wealthy white liberals who have donated to his campaign. Mayor Pete will probably have to gain more support outside of this cohort if he wants to move beyond the early primaries.
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Will Healy is a freelance financial and political writer based in the Dallas area. He holds degrees in journalism and business and has covered a variety of topics, such as stocks, real estate, insurance, personal finance, politics and macroeconomics.